Denny Coll didn't know if he could do it.
A Class of 1965 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Coll was looking at a 12-mile hike from Camp Buckner to West Point 57 years after his own March Back following Cadet Basic Training.
He finished the march seven years ago as part of the 50-year affiliate class, but this year was special. He was joining his daughter Shannon Coll Horne, Class of 1995, and his granddaughter, New Cadet Kirby Horne, to make three generations marching back together.
"When you have a granddaughter that is coming back, that's special," Coll said while fighting back tears. "I am 75, my legs are gone; it was a killer. It was tough. I think I am the third oldest guy who did the 12-miler. It was fun and I am glad I did it. I think Kirby thought it was good that I did it. I told everybody, 'I don't know if I am going to make it and if I do, I do. If I don't, I don't.' My daughter picked me up about halfway along and I made it."
Coll, who served in the Army for five years including a tour in Vietnam, was one of 208 returning graduates to join the new cadets in their March Back from Camp Bucker. Another 49 graduates joined them at the ski slope to march the last two miles onto the parade field at West Point.
"My little brother is a First Year right now and my younger sister is coming in as a new cadet," said 2nd Lt. Emma Smith, who, as a Class of 2017 graduate, was the most recent graduate to return. "This is the third one, but the first time one of us has been able to come back and experience March Back day with a member of the family."
Smith said she decided to march the full 12 miles with her sister so she could offer the type of encouragement and support she wished she would've had during her own March Back.
"I just remember hating the March Back so much when I went through it, and I really wanted to make sure I was there for her," Smith said. "To have somebody by your side makes it so much easier. It was great. I got to hear all of her Beast stories, catch-up a little bit and tell her about everything that went on this summer."
The new cadets were also joined along their march by members of their 50-year affiliate class, the Class of 1972.
"We are the 50-year affiliation class and how can you not do the entire march," Retired Col. Joseph Adamczyk said. "You need to lead by example."
Adamczyk also said they had the added motivation of being able to march with the granddaughter of their classmate Harvey Jokinen. Jokinen was killed in a helicopter crash in Germany in 1978. His granddaughter, Valentina Vincent, is a new cadet.
"It brought back a lot memories," Adamczyk said. "There were a few times where I thought Harvey Jokinen was up there smiling down on his granddaughter and classmates."
The March Back served as the official end to Cadet Basic Training or "Beast," and the last hurdle for the nearly 1,200 new cadets before they officially join the Corps of Cadet Saturday during Acceptance Day.
"One of the biggest things I learned is that you are going to fail, but that's OK," Smith said of the advice she would give her sister and her classmates. "Everybody fails at something at West Point, whether it is PT or academics or something you struggle with outside of that. You learn and you overcome and it makes you a stronger person and a much better leader when you get out into the Army."